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A Summer Etiquette Lesson

Summer is now in full swing. For many of us, that means lots of trips to the beach, open spaces, campgrounds, and hiking trails, or dining al fresco at dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating. This seems like a good time to talk about preparing for summer fun and adhering to outdoor etiquette for dogs and their people.

While taking your dog along on a summertime adventure sure seems like a fun and friendly thing to do, sometimes these little excursions end up not so pleasant for you or your pooch. Problems range from altercations with other humans or dogs to your pup being uncomfortable or embarrassing you in a public place.

For example, you took your bestie to the beach to enjoy the surf and sun, but instead, she trampled through sandcastles like some sort of canine Godzilla, leaving crying sand-covered children in her wake. Or you got to the big parade only to realize that your dog couldn’t walk on the hot pavement, and so you had to either carry your pup for miles in the hot sun or leave the festivities early so as not to burn your dog’s feet.

So how do you determine if your activity of choice is something you and your dog can enjoy together? Let’s talk about where it’s appropriate to bring your dog and when it is best to leave he or she comfortably chilling at home. There are three main factors to consider: the environment, your dog’s level of comfort in crowds/new situations, and your dog’s level of training.

The very first thing to do is research whether dogs are even allowed at the event. If they are, other pertinent things to research include: Is shade accessible nearby? Google Earth can help you answer this question. Will there be an abundance of water available, or will you need to bring your own. Are their cooling stations? Will there be grass for your dog to walk on? If your event is being held on asphalt, concrete, or even sand, I would strongly recommend leaving your dog home if the air temperature will be above 75 degrees because the ground gets very hot and will scorch their delicate pads. Is attendance at the event expected to be so great that people will be crammed in toe to toe? If so, even a big dog is too short to be seen in a crowd and will get stepped on and jostled too much for the event to be enjoyable. Noise level is another very important factor. Loud concerts are not a great place for an animal with such a keen sense of hearing. Fireworks not only hurt dogs’ ears, but also startle or even terrify lots of dogs. More dogs are lost due to running away in a panic of the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year.

The next factor to honestly assess is your dog’s comfort level in new environments and around new people … potentially lots of new people. If your dog has never been to a large event before or rarely leaves your home turf, it is a good idea to start out small, short, and sweet when it comes to expanding his or her comfort zone. Additionally, if your dog doesn’t normally choose to interact with guests who come to your house, avoids strangers at the park, or worse, cowers, retreats, barks, snaps, or growls at people in close proximity, please read these cues and don’t force interactions at home let alone at a loud, crowded, and stressful event. And if your dog is very young or very old, try to keep the time at an event super short, say an hour or so, so as not to overwhelm or exhaust them.

Thirdly, consider your dog’s level of training. If you won’t be able to ask your dog to reliably stay by your side, lie down calmly for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, or to come when called immediately, it’s important to practice those skills in a less distracting environment than a large public celebration. Don’t set you and your pup up for failure. Training takes about 80 percent winning to build good habits.

Now that we’ve gotten the reality checks out of the way, let’s talk about manners. When at a public park or event, please follow all posted rules, always carry poop bags, and clean up after your dog if he or she poops. Please throw any poop you pick up in an actual trash receptacle; there is no such thing as the Poop Bag Fairy. If no trash bins are around? Pack your poop out. Yes. If this is super unappealing to you, you may want to do your best to make sure your best friend is empty before you start your adventure. Keep your dog on leash and on trails, of course, if the location requires it. But honestly, if the trail or park is super packed with people and/or if your dog’s training is not reliable enough that you’d put a $100 bet down on him responding to you fully and immediately, leash him up no matter what.

Lastly, no matter how friendly your dog is do not let her freely approach passing dogs or humans without first getting explicit permission. Rather, ask your dog to walk or sit by your side as people and other animals approach and read the situation or ask those people who are approaching if they’d like to say hello. If the other party declines an introduction, for whatever reason, graciously accept the wishes, and keep your dog right next to you until they pass. It’s the polite thing to do.

Now, with these tips in mind you are ready to get out there and enjoy the dog days of summer.

Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, SiriusPup.com, the family business. 

Main article photo by: Photo Photoboyko / iStock